St. Paul plans to privatize Como, Phalen golf courses but will still run Como ski center

Kathy Zieman was caught off guard when she got news last week that the St. Paul City Council would be voting on a resolution this week that would initiate a request for proposals (RFP) process to find a private vendor to take over the management of the Como and Phalen golf courses by next spring.

Zieman, president of the golf course’s Como Women’s Club and a member of the Como Regional Task Force, said the news “came out of the blue.”

When Parks and Rec director Mike Hahm spoke at District 10’s District Plan Ad Hoc committee meeting on Sept. 9, he assured attendees that the Como Golf Course was not closing, Zieman said. “I guess he was right. They were looking at something totally opposite. No one said, ‘We are looking at outsourcing.’”

The city’s golf courses had been “put under a microscope” for the last three years, said Brad Meyer, public services manager at St. Paul Parks and Recreation, and “our expenses far exceed our income. We went through multiple years of trying to improve performance. It didn’t improve.”

The purpose of the action is to keep the golf courses open, Meyer said. He used Ramsey County, which contracts with private vendors to run some of its golf courses, as an example of how it can work.

The city will continue to operate the Como Park Ski Center, Meyer said. The ski center’s 2013-14 brochure and schedule were being printed last week, he said.

More than 20 full-time employees will be affected by this change, according to an email sent to stakeholders from the city’s special services manager, Susie Odegard.

The city will work to reassign employees into available positions at the Highland 9 and Highland National golf courses or within the parks department, the email said.

The District 10 Community Council had not been officially informed about the city’s decision at press time. The council has wanted to see the golf course stay open, council chair Jon Knox said, and neighbors want cross-country skiing to be maintained at the park.

“We haven’t had enough conversation with [the city] to understand how this came about,” Knox said. “We are definitely looking to have some input in the process.”

Coincidentally, Hahm, the Parks and Rec director, is scheduled to speak at the District 10 meeting on Tuesday, Nov. 19, at 7 p.m. at the Hisotric Streetcar Station, 1224 N. Lexington Parkway.

Zieman wants to see the courses stay open, but she’s unhappy that the city did not have a community conversation about opening bids to private vendors.

“I was not expecting this. I’m really disappointed in how this was handled,” she said. “This is not the city that I’m used to working with. This is a total change. It’s like Congress, the Minnesota Orchestra and now the City of St. Paul. Why can’t you be open and honest about things?”

The resolution is on the consent agenda for the City Council’s regular meeting at 3:30 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 23, in the City Council chambers, 300 City Hall, 15 W. Kellogg Blvd.

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